Posted by Lyra Mollington
Editor’s note: before reading Lyra’s latest thoughts, it may be helpful to read last week’s Thoughts of a funeral-goer.
When we saw a sign for the crematorium on the outskirts of Aldershot, my heart sank. Not a café in sight – only garages and car showrooms. Barry’s face lit up for a split second but he knew that there was no point in even asking.
Not that there was any time for coffee or new cars. The traffic coming out of Richmond was dreadful that morning and we were only half an hour early. The car park was almost empty but I knew it would be filling up fast. Before everyone else began to arrive, I wanted to take a few photos and find somewhere for Barry to do his breathing exercises.
First stop was the waiting room – bright, clean and tidy. To my delight I spotted a poem by Sir John Betjeman sitting on an Ercol coffee table. But this was not the time to be reading poetry. I took a photograph instead.
Ignoring Daisy’s protests, I walked through to the main entrance and found the ideal place for Barry to prepare himself: the vestry. He entered reluctantly, only to come straight back out again. Apparently, there’s a huge window overlooking the main drive. Anyone could look in and he wasn’t going to risk it.
I peeked into the chapel. It was empty. Perfect. This was Barry’s opportunity to stand at the lectern and do some visualisation exercises. We’d barely taken three steps inside the door when someone asked, ‘May I help you?’ It was the organist, hidden in a corner at the back.
In reply, Daisy let out a small yelp. Barry, however, didn’t miss a beat, ‘If you could read my speech for me, that would be very helpful indeed.’ The organist smiled politely.
Back in the waiting room, Barry told us that he didn’t think there’d be any ‘sombre organ-playing’ for our service. Richard was a Status Quo man. According to Barry, ‘If there’s no Quo, it’ll be a travesty.’ Daisy rolled her eyes.
With five minutes to go, the waiting room was full to bursting. A smart young man invited us to enter the chapel. Unfortunately for Barry, it was a double slot and a quick word with Richard’s son confirmed that he would be speaking just before the committal. Which might be fifty minutes away.
All of Richard’s wives were there. The youngest of the wives looked lovely in a short electric blue dress with matching fascinator. And sunglasses!
The minutes ticked by and we were told about Richard’s childhood; his marriages; his passion for golf; his love of fine wines and his successful career in financial services. As we were listening to the music for reflection, I suddenly realised that my mouth was dry and my heart was racing. I was nervous. For Barry. I glanced at Daisy who was staring at her feet. She looked terrified.
Barry, on the other hand, seemed completely relaxed. When his name was announced, he strode confidently towards the lectern. To be on the safe side, I started sending instructions to him – telepathically.
(Smile…) He began by explaining that he and Richard had known each other since they were five. (Not too fast…) He went on to say that it was no surprise to him that Richard would want to have the last word. Everyone laughed enthusiastically. (Well done, but don’t lose focus: remember, funeral audiences are easily pleased…)
As the laughter subsided, Barry paused before reading Richard’s message. (Good – lots of pauses in all the right places just as we practised…)
‘If all has gone to plan, Barry is reading this and I’m dead. Not that I planned on dying this young. Truth be told, I’m completely hacked off that he’s reading this at my funeral and not the other way round. But maybe that serves me right for being an insurance salesman. Which reminds me: to all my colleagues, if you’ve managed to get the day off, some advice for you. Take early retirement.
I really have had a great life. Granted, I’ve had more wives than children which isn’t ideal. But making mistakes is what life is all about. As long as you learn from them. Which was probably my biggest mistake of all. But what the hell. And, by the way, I don’t believe in hell. Or any other kind of after life.
But I do believe in THIS life. And if you’re feeling sad – don’t. I’ve packed a lot into my 64 years. Even if it does seem like yesterday when I heard that Beatles song and thought, ‘When I’m 64? That’s a lifetime away.’
And I believe in people. At this moment, I can honestly say, I love you all.
To my first wife, Maggie: our marriage didn’t last but you are a true friend. Thank you. You were more than I deserved.
To my second wife, Anita: thank you for many happy years and for being an amazing mother to Matthew.
To my third and final wife, Sally: thank you for choosing me. And for never calling me old. You have no idea how much I love you. Mainly because I never told you. Well, I’m telling you now. Or at least Barry is. I love you. And for the last time, I AM always right. So don’t get your hopes up for Spurs this season.
To my son Matt: I am incredibly proud of you. Thank goodness you take after your mum. Be happy. I love you.
To my daughter-in-law Carolyn: you’re far too good for Matt but don’t tell him I told you. And thank you both for giving me two gorgeous grandchildren.
To my mates: thank you for never growing up and for making me laugh. Especially you Eddie: I forgive you for all those practical jokes. Remember that embarrassing secret you told me last year? I never told anyone.
To my golfing mates: we had a lot of fun! Well as much fun as you can have with a stupid stick and a little white ball. Remember me at the 19th. You all bloody owe me a drink!
To my posh mates: you know who you are – no, not you Len. Thank you for putting up with my naff taste in wine. I never did learn to tell the difference between Plonk de Maison and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s all bollocks as far as I’m concerned.
To everyone: thank you for coming here. As Spock used to say, “Live long and prosper.”
As for me: it’s to infinity and beyond…’
Barry turned to face the curtains and led everyone in a round of applause for Richard. Before returning to his seat, he touched the coffin to say his own goodbye to his friend. Daisy and I were beaming with pride.
A few minutes later we were leaving the chapel to Richard’s favourite song, ‘Paper Plane’. By Status Quo.
Park Crematorium, Aldershot